Genes to blame for multiple illnesses, say scientists

Research suggests serious diseases could be linked by genes

ALMOST one in five genes is linked to more than one disease, a new study suggests.

People who carry particular genes – including some responsible for heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and some cancers – could be at risk of developing other health problems, researchers say.

Scientists have suspected for some time that different diseases are genetically linked but until now have lacked systematic evidence to prove it.

The study by the University of Edinburgh has found that genes responsible for Crohn’s disease are linked with other conditions including breast and prostate cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, high cholesterol and obesity.

Knowing how diseases are genetically connected could aid efforts to develop medicines and potential side-effects could be predicted and avoided.

The group also reports new genetic links between those genes associated to certain fats that may lower cholesterol and the risk of gallstones.

In addition, the study supports earlier research that identified a link between fetal haemoglobin and risk of malaria.

Dr Evropi Theodoratou of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Population Health Sciences said: “Showing that genes are linked to more than one disease is very important. We have shown that this is a common finding and not just an exception.

“Anyone who goes for genetic testing should be aware that in future any information they receive about individual genes could have wider implications than they or the clinician immediately realise. They could also influence the risk of other conditions, so being aware of these wider effects is important.”

The study is published online today in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The analysis used data from the National Human Genome Research Institute’s catalogue of published genes which influence risk of common diseases.